This is my last piece for the Bulletin as my term of five years as National President finishes at the end of May. It has been a privilege to serve the Society as National President and I thank all the Members and Staff across the country who showed me so much courtesy and encouragement in the role over the years.
As I complete my term of office it is probably appropriate that I try to outline areas where I think we have made progress but Members and Staff. I set out a number of current key areas of development and work also where challenges remain. Much has been achieved thanks to the drive and support of so many that is in progress, these are outlined in no particular order of priority.
Tremendous work is being done by our Area Presidents in supporting Conferences across the country. We have improved training support for Area Presidents, provided job descriptions and made available Membership Support Officers. This is working well and I thank Area Presidents for their huge commitment to their role, without them the structures in the Society will not work, more importantly Members in Conferences will not receive the support they deserve. I know that there are still vacancies for a number of Area President roles around the country, it is important these are filled as soon as possible. The Area President structure is working much better and is having a welcome impact, we need to build on the progress made to date.
We recently had an excellent discussion at National Council on what it means in the Society to be ‘Volunteer Lead’. We all know that any Officer role, whether at Conference, Area, Regional and National levels are onerous and not honorary titles. We need to continue to encourage people to come forward and give a period to an Officer role. In particular Area Presidents need to encourage people at Conference level to come forward. At each level within the Society a current Officer needs to have people that can replace them, possible replacements need to be encouraged well in advance of changes. With out this the Society will not be able to maintain our ‘Volunteer Lead’ status that is so important to us.
Over the past number of years Conferences have improved significantly the emphasis on ‘Quality Visitation’. This means spending more time really understanding the needs of those we serve and trying to come up with a plan that will get that person or family back to self sufficiency, with outside help and assistance if deemed necessary. It remains a challenge to reach many of those who continue to struggle who in many instances are unwilling to contact the Society. There are examples of superb work being done by Conferences in getting people back to self sufficiency, we need to build on that success. We owe it to our generous donors that we use their donations in the best way possible, to do this we need to both reach out to those who may be reluctant to contact us, also to really understand the circumstances of those coming to us for assistance.
To give people more time and seek out those in real need means having sufficient Conference Members to do the work. Each Conference should seek to attract some new Members EVERY year, in addition in recruiting we need to ensure we have the best mix of skills that are appropriate and a good mix between male and female Members. Within this, Members need to avail of training and regular updating through Area Meetings or Members days. Visitation remains the core work of the Society, we need to challenge ourselves that we are doing the job the best way possible, that involves bringing in new Members, good mix of skills and appropriate ongoing training.
The Society, after much consultation and work, is about to launch to every Conference a suggested revitalization of our Spirituality. We are unique in terms of our background and heritage, the feedback from our Members is that we need to revitalize our Ethos. In essence the message is that the HOW we serve those in need is as important as the WHAT we do. An approach is being recommended that links our Prayer to a Reflection to Questions that Members might briefly discuss at Conference meetings. Your National Council strongly endorses the approach being taken. If widely implemented it should set the Society apart in terms of how we work with those in need, in addition it should minimize discord within the Society at all levels. This potentially has the most far reaching positive impact on the Society of all the changes made over the past few years.
The Society has had over the years a very proactive approach to Social Justice. We comment on matters that impact those we serve. We meet with Government Ministers and Officials and we issue Press Releases on various topics. In addition we do research on various topics that are relevant at particular times. Despite all of this excellent work the inequalities in our country and globally continue to widen. We have tried over the past few years to encourage wider debates on the type of society we want and have supported a number of projects in this regard. However the problems continue. I suggest that the Society, both Nationally and Internationally, needs to comment at least once a year on the wider issues and decisions impacting on the lives of people and make recommendations for change. The Society is highly regarded, both at home and abroad, we have a seat Inter nationally at the United Nations, we need to issue measured well thought out and researched commentary that will encourage policymakers make decisions that will improve the lives of people and create a more equal society.
I wish the incoming National President and National Management Council every good wish in their onerous work ahead. For any of us in leadership roles the aim has to be to hand over to the incoming Officers a Society that is in a better position than when we commenced, if we all aim to do that, in the spirit of Blessed Frederic, we will maintain a vibrant Society.
Thanks again to all of our Members, my colleagues on Management Council, National Council and Staff at all levels for your unstinting support and work. In particular I acknowledge all the members of National Management Council and Staff who I worked with, both current and retired, I acknowledge those members who had to retire due to illness and I wish them well in their recovery and I remember with sadness the loss of Michael O’Keeffe in a tragic accident.